Quinton Coples ripped through Duke’s offensive line like wrapping paper on Saturday for two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
It was one of the few times all season that the senior defensive end has looked like, well, Quinton Coples.
After last season, NFL scouts drooled over him, teams wanted to pay him millions, and that was when he was playing defensive tackle — not even his natural position.
He was a projected top 10 draft pick, but Coples returned for his senior season. He just didn’t realize how different it would be.
“I didn’t understand, or didn’t realize that there were going to be double-teams or things of that nature,” Coples said. “That was an adjustment I had to make.”
And frankly, it was an adjustment he struggled to make.
Before Saturday’s 37-21 win against Duke, Coples had 20 tackles, 5.5 sacks and had forced two fumbles.
On Saturday, UNC defensive coordinator Art Kaufman, at times, moved Coples inside to defensive tackle.
“Quinton has been a guy since he’s been here that’s gotten a lot of slide protection to him in the passing game, a lot of doubles,” interim coach Everett Withers said. “We felt like moving Quinton inside would give him a chance to make a few more plays.”
One of those plays, his first sack, almost took Duke quarterback Sean Renfree’s head off. When Renfree felt Coples’ pressure from the outside, he stepped up in the pocket, but Coples was able to hook his left arm and grab Renfree’s shoulder. Then with that arm alone, he threw him back and sacked him.
It wasn’t just that Coples made plays, he made them when UNC needed it. His two sacks both ended drives. The first forced a punt, and he forced a fumble on the latter.
It was vintage Coples, and that phrase alone is intriguing. Had Coples left for the NFL and been drafted in the top 10 picks, he likely would have made a pretty penny.
But Coples said he isn’t concerned with the uncertainty of his draft stock.
One thing is certain, though — Coples doesn’t regret his decision to return in the slightest.
“I learned a lot of things about life and football in general,” Coples said. “Last year, I was talented and probably a high prospect, but it’s the life things that’s going to get me over the edge in the long run that I didn’t know coming out of last years’ season.”
It’s yet to be seen how Coples’ decision to return will help or hurt him, but it certainly says a lot about him.
“I think he knew that he was going to be a big focal point of this team and we really needed him,” UNC quarterback Bryn Renner said.
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